Follow these tips for trimming, replanting iris

Trimming the leaf fan on each iris rhizome helps prevent the plant from being too top-heavy as it gets established after replanting.

This tangled mass of overgrown irises needed to be divided. The middle mass of rhizomes without any leaf fans were discarded, and only the large, healthy rhizomes were replanted.

When I first started gardening, I quickly realized that some plants are a better investment than others.

I know this is risky territory for me to wander into, the whole foray of how much money I spend on our garden (if you don’t believe me, put William Alexander’s “The $64 Tomato” on your reading list for winter).

But the reality is, when you plant something, you have a choice between seeds, annuals, perennials and bulbs. Seeds are cheap but require patience. Annuals provide instant gratification but only last one season. Perennials and bulbs, if they’re meant for our growing conditions, return year after year.

I focused heavily on perennials and bulbs in the beginning because I figured they’re a one-time investment and would pay off for years. Well, that’s sort of true.

Perennials come back most years (depending on our winters), but many of them do not thrive on neglect, and mine are starting to exhibit signs of needing TLC.

Last spring, the purple irises hardly bloomed. There were a few that managed a scraggly, stunted attempt, nowhere near the grape-scented show they put on in the past.

Some were so overcrowded that they were shoving each other out of the soil, and the rhizomes (roots) were heaving up out of the ground. This is what happens when you plant something and leave it for seven years without paying attention to it, I suppose.

All was not lost. I dug up the iris, began the tedious task of dividing them, replanted the ones I had room for and gave the rest to friends. If you plan on doing this, you should know that if you have incredibly overgrown irises, you will probably have a situation where you dig up the whole blob of rhizomes and they’re all attached to each other.

Mine were so tangled, they reminded me of the creepy vines covering Aughra’s lair in “The Dark Crystal.” After knocking off the dirt, I could see where they needed come apart.

You might have to use a knife to actually cut the individual irises off the blob. Mine appeared to have this mass that had choked out all the leaves in the center, with usable irises around the perimeter. Using the leaves as a guide, I separated each iris so it had a fan of leaves and at least 3 inches of rhizome.

Cut back each fan of leaves so they’re about one-third as tall as they used to be. This will prevent your iris from being too top-heavy and falling over after replanting. Don’t snap off the little tendrils attached to the rhizomes, they’re important. And don’t worry if you have bits left over that look like ginger root without any leaves, just discard them.

One more thing: Make sure to only plant firm, good-looking rhizomes. If you find that you have soft, mildewy rhizomes, throw them away and amend your watering practices. Irises don’t need that much water!

Erin McIntyre is a writer, master gardener and owner of the gourmet pickle company, Yum Pickles. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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